Birvidik

09 February 2018
22 December 2017 | or 'Making a Spectacle of Myself'
09 December 2017 | I’m not sure this is a good idea, but what the Hell – I’ll give it a go anyway.
02 November 2017 | or 'The Naked Truth'
21 July 2017 | and if you don't like them...well I have others. - Groucho Marx
31 January 2017 | or Pygmalion revisited
25 January 2017 | (or cries in the wilderness)
31 October 2016 | or 'Foraging & Familiarisation'
23 October 2016 | or 'Technology 4 - Newbury Nil
08 October 2016 | or 'Driven to Distraction'
26 August 2016 | Or 'England Expects'
04 August 2016 | or Take a run at it
26 July 2016 | Or Daniel - Chapter 5, Verse 27
17 April 2016 | or 'Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3
14 April 2016 | or 'Tales of the Unexpected'
02 December 2015 | you are single minded; he is blinkered
16 October 2015 | or National Stereotypes R us
11 October 2015
18 June 2015
17 May 2015

The best laid plans....

09 February 2018
Sorry for the delay. I did get the op done in the end, but not as I originally (and naïvely) anticipated. The procedure, once it was eventually done, was an unqualified success, but it left my right arm hors de combat for a while. Attempting to operate a computer with just the left arm is tedious and time-consuming in the extreme, hence the delay in updating this blog.

Anyway, so much for forethought and planning. My confident prediction that I would end up getting the operation done cheaply and quickly in Spain (See 'Health & Efficiency') proved unfounded. My suspicions were aroused during the consultation with the orthopaedic surgeon. I appreciate that orthos are a special case in that whereas most surgeons think they're God, orthos know that they're God. Given this little professional foible, I'm willing to accept a degree of airy, facile condescension in my encounters with them*.

This guy, though, took the biscuit. Any question or concern that I raised elicited a standard response of a dismissive wave of the hand, a long-suffering sigh and a barely concealed snort. The implication was that such weighty matters were beyond the ken of mere mortals such as patients and should be left to proper clever people, such as him. I suspect that the concept of informed consent had passed him by.

I also suspected that his attitude was partially a result of a somewhat fragile ego. This was reinforced by his bristling reaction to my asking how many of these procedures he had done, given that his website indicated that his specialism was spinal surgery rather than upper limb and shoulder. Queries such as this were obviously considered particularly glaring examples of lèse-majesté, as were questions on the staffing ratios and standard of care of the private hospital in which the op was to be performed; matters that had prompted several comments in reviews, as had suspicions of bumping up the price with unnecessary tests.

What really put the tin hat on it, though, was his response to my questions on the anaesthetics to be used and possible complications and side effects. Now, I appreciate that he's not an anaesthetist and I wouldn't have expected a surgeon to be au fait with the finer details of poisoning the patient to within an inch of his life (preferably without finishing him off completely). I would, however, expect him to have a rough idea of the usual anaesthetic procedure; you know, something along the lines of whether there would be a spinal block or which anaesthetic was normally employed.

Instead, he blustered, distracted and prevaricated. In the end, he suggested halothane, chloroform or ether as possibilities. Halothane has been under a cloud since the 1980s, mainly due to concerns about liver damage and sometimes fatal cardiac arrhythmias. It looks positively benign though in comparison to the other two. Chloroform is nastily toxic, especially to the heart, and frequently causes fatal fibrillation. It hasn't been used as an anaesthetic since the 1930s. Ether, although slightly less toxic than chloroform poses a serious risk of fire and explosion, especially when it is mixed with oxygen; which is almost always in the case of anaesthesia. It went out of use in the developed world shortly after chloroform. Either the surgeon was covering up for his ignorance or he'd accidentally fallen into a wormhole and been transported here from the late 1800s. Thank Christ he wasn't in charge of the clap clinic. If he were he'd probably have been prescribing tincture of mercury and arsenic enhanced by blowing tobacco smoke up the patient's arse.

My enthusiasm for getting this op done in Spain was waning rapidly. It wasn't helped by the discovery that the incidence of patients waking up on the table was even higher in Spain than it was in China, which was one of the most notoriously iffy countries in that department.

My mind was pretty well made up at this stage but he had yet to play his trump card. I asked how much the procedure would cost in all. "Between 6000 and 12000 euros", he replied. That was enough for me. If laughing-boy here said 6 - 12K you can bet the graduate debt of an entire medical faculty that it'd be as near to 12K as makes no difference. Previous investigations had indicated that having it done in Jersey would have cost around five to six thousand quid, including flights. I impersonated a News of the World reporter and made my excuses and left.

Jersey it was then.

In the interests of not overtaxing the already somewhat limited attention spans of our readers, the full, gory description of developments in Jersey will be recounted in the next, unedifying, entry.

* There are, of course, the odd exceptions to this rule and one or two orthos do bear a passing and superficial similarity to normal human beings. You know who you are JP. You may affect an air of normality but I'm on to you.

The Eyes have it

22 December 2017 | or 'Making a Spectacle of Myself'
The approach to Monemvassia lies behind an isthmus and consists of an open anchorage partially protected by the isthmus and two large breakwaters. Tucked into the corners of the anchorage are two well protected, but very small harbours. We headed for the northern one. About 400 metres off the entrance the steering locked solid. Good game, good game.

I rushed to the foredeck and deployed the anchor, allowing the wind to take us back until we had enough scope out. I locked off the windlass and Liz took Birvidik astern to bite the anchor in. We were now in a very vulnerable position, in an exposed anchorage with no steerage and little dragging room. I set about trying to trace the steering fault.

No job on a boat is local. Any repair or diagnostic investigation, however apparently localised, inevitably involves dismantling half the boat. So it was with the steering. This runs half the length of the boat and access involves opening up and emptying the steering locker in the saloon, the port cockpit locker, the heating exhaust locker, the hanging locker, the dressing table cupboards and all six stern cabin drawers.

Stage two is to strip to a pair of rather unsavoury skimpy Y-fronts, don a headlight and liberally grease the body with goose fat before contorting and squeezing yourself into the aforementioned spaces and attempting a close examination of the steering mechanism, trying to identify the cause of the jam.
This task is not made any easier by the loss of focussing power which develops in the more advanced-aged demographic typified by the average yottie.

In this respect I am very much the average yottie. Unaided, I can focus on anything exactly 41.3 centimetres away. No more, no less. Any closer or further away, I need glasses. Different glasses. I am therefore the proud possessor of six pairs of glasses, not counting spares. These comprise (in increasing focusing distance): reading glasses, computer glasses, saxophone glasses, television glasses, general purpose glasses and driving glasses. For really close examination I also carry a magnifying glass.
"Ah Bob, you Silly-Billy" I hear you cry indulgently, "Why don't you get yourself some varifocals?"

I did. Varifocals work fine when you still have some accommodation left. Then you've got a reasonable area of lens for each focal range. By the time you get to my state, the varifocals are covering such a range of distances that, in order to focus at any given distance, you have to ensure that you are looking exactly through a horizontal strip of lens that's no wider than a pencil lead. Doing this requires head and neck contortions that would have guaranteed getting the Linda Blair part in The Exorcist.

A good place to witness this phenomenon is in the supermarket. Let us say that our yottie wishes to replenish his supply of Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies*.

The varifocalled yottie can first be identified as he attempts to home in on the right area of shelving. He walks slowly down the aisle with a peculiar slow nodding of the head. This scans the shelves through the range of focal lengths on his glasses and gives him a fighting chance of homing in on roughly the right section to find what he's looking for.

Once he gets there his behaviour changes. He now needs to read the small print. This is easiest if the item is on a shelf at about chest height as then he can look through the close range strip of the varifocals. What he wants is rarely so conveniently sited.

If he wishes to look at stuff higher up he has to tilt his head right back until he gets a crick in his neck and then make his extraocular muscles ache as he tries to look through the bottom of his varifocals. Passers-by notice this strange aspect and all stop and look at the ceiling, trying to identify whatever strange phenomenon has attracted his attention. An alternative strategy for this situation is to lean in closely and lift the glasses so that the bottoms of the lenses are in line with the eyebrows. This facilitates focus but makes him look like a particularly pompous, pedantic and supercilious schoolmaster. Which in my case is quite appropriate.

Items on lower shelves pose even more of a challenge. He can try squatting down and employing the top shelf technique but with his knees he's likely to have to call in one of the supermarket's hydraulic pallet trucks to get him up again.

Another possible technique is to bend forward with the hands on the knees and the head tilted back, thus reading through the bottom third of the lenses. While far from perfect, this makes the label at least guessable, unless it's in Greek script**. The drawback to this tactic is that it also requires the backside to be pushed out as a counterbalance. This may give the wrong message to passing aficionados of musical theatre.

If his target item is on the bottom shelf then he's going home empty handed. Reading anything at that height would entail lying spread-eagled on the floor with the head tilted right back, somewhat reminiscent of a stranded turtle. Even a yottie has some residual decorum.

By the time eyesight has deteriorated to my standard, varifocals have usually been forsaken in favour of a range of specialist glasses as described above. This arrangement, though, comes with its own set of challenges, the greatest of which is where do you put the bloody things. Many imaginative solutions to this problem have been devised but the two favourites seem to be 'Put them on spectacle lanyards and hang them round your neck' or 'Stick them on top of your head'. The former gives our yottie the appearance of a maiden aunt that has gone a bit overboard on the jewellery. The latter, meanwhile, makes him look like a gigantic wolf spider that has escaped from the Island of Doctor Moreau.

Both pose problems in the confined space of a boat locker. If he hangs them round his neck they tangle up and he gets his arm stuck through them while wriggling into the far end of the locker. This effectively hog-ties him with his nose pressed into the most inaccessible corner of the oubliette in which he is confined. The subsequent panic-stricken, claustrophobic struggles usually result in the lanyards breaking and the assorted glasses are then scattered onto the floor of the locker where they are knelt and sat on until reduced to a scree of glass and plastic.

If worn on the top of the head, they are repeatedly banged and scratched into a state of opacity but at least they don't truss you up like a turkey. I favour the latter.

Once in the confines of the locker a further set of challenges become apparent. The incompatible 3D geometries of human bodies and boat lockers usually dictate that it is impossible to look directly at the area you wish to inspect. Accordingly, our yottie ends up squinting at it through the corner of his eye or lying on his back and trying to peer myopically at the point of interest through his eyebrows. Both these angles lie outside the field of view of most glasses. To compound matters, once in this position the headlight brightly illuminates the only corner of the locker unencumbered by anything he might want to look at.

Further contortions are required. Firstly, the headlight is augmented by a pencil torch held precariously in the teeth and then the glasses are removed from the face and a ludicrously optimistic attempt is made to hold them in the direct line between at least one eyeball and the item under investigation. This is just about achievable, but if he wants to use a screwdriver, spanner or socket as well, then he's on a hiding to nothing.

Given these vexatious obstacles that life and Anno Domini delight in throwing at us, it's a miracle that jobs such as this meet with any success at all. However, in a state of unbridled optimism we just keep on keeping on and once in a while we meet with success.

So it was in this instance. After nearly three hours of sweat, contortion and no little amount of profanities I identified the problem. One of the retaining bolts for the cover plate on the autopilot drive motor had worked loose. It had then jammed between the drive sprocket and chain, thus effectively locking the whole thing up.

It only took me another hour to free the bolt, slap a dollop of loctite on it and screw it back in with the biggest socket wrench I could get into the available space.

We were on our way again.

*Fray Bentos steak & kidney pies seem to have acquired cult status in Yottiedom but why anyone should ever want to eat something that tastes mainly of piss is beyond me.

**Eyesight deteriorates so gradually with age that you don't appreciate the degree to which you are making educated guesses as to what the letters actually are. This becomes suddenly and glaringly apparent when you try to read something in an alphabet with which you are not so familiar - like Greek or Cyrillic.

Turkish Lessons

09 December 2017 | I’m not sure this is a good idea, but what the Hell – I’ll give it a go anyway.
I'm in the process of writing the sequel to my last book and was working on the bit about Istanbul when it struck me that it might make an interesting and slightly different blog post. It starts as a recommendation not to take Istanbul as representative of Turkey as a whole:

On the surface, it should be. After all, with a population of around fifteen million, it accounts for nearly twenty percent of Turkey's seventy eight million population. Compare that with Greater London's 8 ½ million accounting for just 13% of the UK's population.

No Brit would seriously contend that London was a representative microcosm of the whole UK (1). Few capital cities are (2). Most people, in most countries accept that such cities are special cases and are qualitatively different from most of the rest of the country. In fact, a lot of people actively resent what they see as the disproportionate influence their capital city and its resident movers and shakers have their lives, on the body politic and on other institutions of the country as a whole.

There is a school of thought that Brexit referendum result and the election of Donald Trump are manifestations of a polarisation of Western societies and that the political and philosophical middle ground is being lost to two extreme, diametrically opposed and aggressively conflicting world views. Well, compared to Turkey, the British are an homogenous mass of cloned sheep all called Brian.

Turkey's divisions go back to the founding of the republic in 1923 when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk raised the modern Republic of Turkey from the smouldering remains of the Ottoman Empire.
His aim was to establish a modern, secular, westernised, educated, emancipated society in a country primarily composed of conservative, Islamic, eastward-looking, predominantly illiterate, patriarchal peasants.

Well good luck with that. He obviously liked a challenge (3).

And he didn't sit on his arse twiddling his thumbs. In a few years he had transformed Turkish society. His reforms included the emancipation of women, the abolition or control of all Islamic institutions and the introduction of western legal codes and the western calendar. He set up a committee of linguists, educators and writers and told them to come up with a new latinate alphabet to replace the Arabic script in use at the time, and not to hang about. They did it in a year and it was implemented in three months. This, combined with his 'Campaign against ignorance' rapidly raised the literacy rate from around 10% to over 90%.

He wasn't all sweetness and light, though. People who get a lot done rarely are. Ali Kemal, one of his more influential critics, was intercepted by an ally of Atatürk who armed and incited a mob to lynch Kemal, a job they did most thoroughly with cudgels, stones and knives before hanging him from a tree with a rude notice pinned to his chest with a hunting knife (4).

Demonstrations of intent such as this, coupled with the fact that Atatürk was in charge of the army and so had most of the guns, swords, artillery, bombs and aeroplanes tended to discourage overt resistance to his reforms, which went ahead apace.

It's one thing to discourage overt opposition, but changing hearts and minds is another matter. A large proportion of the Turks did sign up wholeheartedly to Atatürk's ideas, but an equally large number found them anathema. Some of this opposition was philosophically and ideologically driven, but I'm sure the Imams and Madrassas weren't exactly thrilled with their loss of power and influence once they were effectively taken under government control.

The dividing lines between the two camps were not drawn only on religious and political grounds, but also on material and geographical ones. The secularists tended to be more liberal, better educated, wealthier, more influential and to live in the big cities and the western and southwestern coasts. Those in the other camp tended to be conservative, pious, poorly educated, impoverished, disenfranchised and they lived predominantly in the central and eastern parts of the country. They are also, probably, marginally greater in number than the secularists.

The secularists, though, have got the army on their side. Historically, should any uppity Islamist politician get within sniffing distance of power and so pose a threat to Atatürk's legacy, the army steps in with a gentle little coup as a reminder of who's actually in charge.(5)

All this elicits cognitive dissonance in the minds of wishy-washy liberals such as me. On the one hand the democratic will of the majority, especially the disadvantaged, should prevail. On the other hand the measures they want to implement are so fundamentally wrong and repressive that they should be avoided at almost all costs.

All of which brings echoes of the English Civil War as described by Sellar and Yeatman in '1066 and All That', where the Cavaliers were 'Wrong But Wromantic' whereas the roundheads were 'Right But Repulsive'. Who do you side with when the good guys do bad things and the bad guys do good things?

Turkey also serves as a model for possible developments in other western democracies where polarization seems to be occurring.

Conventional wisdom has it that power in liberal democracies goes to whoever wins the battle for the middle ground. This model is based on the premise that the electorate's attitudes on any matter (e.g. left vs right) are distributed in a bell curve. Very few have extreme left wing views and very few are extreme right-wingers. Most voters' views are bunched around the middle. This leads to more or less consensus politics where the majority of people think that government policy, if not exactly in tune with their thinking, is at least not too far from it. This encourages participation, engagement and debate. OK - it's not perfect but it's about the best we'll get in terms of peaceful co-existence.

A highly polarised electorate paints a very different picture. The distribution graph is no longer a dromedary's hump, but now looks like a couple of mountains with a valley between them. There is very little overlap in the middle. As a result it is pointless for a politician to court the middle ground. In practical terms, there isn't any. Instead, power now goes to whoever successfully panders to whichever is the bigger of the two humps which lie at the two extremes. This goes by the rather clumsy title of a majoritarian disctatorship.

Government policies will now be sorely resented by the nearly 50% of the population in the losing hump who will now, with considerable justification, feel voiceless, disenfranchised and run roughshod over by a government that treats them and their views and feelings with dismissive contempt. The winning side, meanwhile, stands a good chance of further inflaming the situation with arrogant crowing, taunting and metaphorically rubbing the losers' noses in it. The old virtues of graciousness in defeat and magnanimity in victory fade and die. This holds true whichever side wins.

Such polarisation is not an automatic precursor to civil strife but I suspect it is an important and necessary prerequisite. Perhaps one of the most important tasks currently facing liberal democracies is to address this polarisation starting with trying to determine its causes.

I'll start the ball rolling. Why do so many feel angry, frustrated and impotent when they have to suffer the consequences of the self-serving shenanigans of the political, financial and business classes. And remember, to misquote H.L. Mencken:

"To every complex problem there is an answer that is easy, neat, simple, plausible and wrong."



(1) Well, no Brit in his or her right mind anyway. (Which is by no means all of them)

(2) I know, I know - Ankara is the capital of Turkey. Istanbul's still the biggest city though.

(3) He also liked a drink and was reputed to have drunk a litre of raki every day of his adult life. That's around 350 units a week - makes me feel quite restrained. Mind you, he did die at 57 from chronic liver disease.

(4) One can justifiably question his methods, but I would also question his timing. If the deed had to be done, it would have been better twelve years earlier, Then Kemal wouldn't have sired Osman Johnson who in turn would not have sired Stanley Johnson. Which in turn means we wouldn't have had to suffer Boris.

(5) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has played the long game very cleverly. The 2016 coup attempt failed.
Vessel Name: Birvidik
Vessel Make/Model: Victory 40
Hailing Port: Jersey C.I.
Crew: Bob Newbury
About: Liz Newbury
Extra: 11 years into a 10 year plan, but we get there in the end.
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